“Rest is a radical concept in our society, and the medicine for modern times.”
A yoga teacher friend said this quote to me a few years ago and little did I know just how much it would guide my work as a certified yoga teacher who is passionate about restorative yoga practices.
What if we expanded our notion of what is considered medicine? Many of us already believe that food is medicine, that herbs are medicine… why do we not believe that rest is medicine?
Maybe we’ve been told that rest is unproductive, weak, or even selfish.
In this world of overdoing, achieving and producing, where our worth is often measured by what we do, it’s easy to feel guilty for resting.
Could we change all that by giving ourselves permission to rest? If we truly believed that rest is the medicine for our times, would we then be able to give ourselves the gift of rest?
When we don’t rest deeply and de-stress, over time our nervous system stays in a state of chronic stress where our body’s ability to heal itself is compromised. Our immune system weakens, we may experience pain and inflammation in the body, experience weight gain, insomnia, and have less mental clarity. Nobody wants this. And yet, in our overdoing world, we do choose this.
Yoga is based on the principle of Ahimsa, non-harming. When we push ourselves to the point where we are causing harm, we are going against one of the foundational principles of yoga.
The good news is that when we rest, we are doing immense good for our bodies, minds and hearts. We activate the body’s relaxation response which encourages the body’s natural healing abilities, we return to homeostasis, our heart rate lowers, our mind quiets and settles, our digestion improves and we experience better sleep.
What constitutes the kind of rest that can be considered medicine? Well, let me tell you it may look a little different from what many people do to rest (hint: it’s not Netflix bingeing!). The tools that take us to a place of deep rest involve our full presence. Some of the best tools are simple yoga practices that anyone can do. Forget the twisty bendy pretzels you see on Instagram, we are talking about more subtle practices.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Restorative yoga involves getting into gentle supported poses that are held for 5-15 minutes. This allows a slow, softening of the muscles in the body, easing tension and melting away habitual patterns of holding.
Chanting is a practice of singing sacred mantras or songs, either on our own or in community (Kirtan). It is a way we can liberate the mind from everyday stresses and connect with something larger than ourselves.
Meditation doesn’t have to be a long practice to be effective, even devoting 5 minutes a day can make a big difference to our mental well-being. Try setting a timer for 5 minutes and simply sit and watch your breath — inhale/exhale, inhale/ exhale…
Savasana is the most important pose in yoga. Sure is! The good news is that savasana is simply resting on the ground. This is the pose we experience at the end of most yoga classes, and in my opinion, usually not nearly long enough! This deeply restorative pose connects us to the earth, helps to align and relax the body. Use whatever props you need to create as much comfort as possible; a bolster or pillow under the knees, a rolled towel or blanket in the curve of the neck, and a scarf or eye pillow over the eyes. Add your favourite soft music or a guided meditation for even more bliss!
Yoga Nidra is sometimes referred to as yogic ‘sleep’. This guided meditation practice brings us to a deeper state of consciousness by taking us through the many layers of our beings from physical to more subtle.
Breath practices are a little more than simply breathing. Did you know we take between 17 and 20 thousand breaths per day? How many of those are we conscious of? When we bring our awareness to our breath in a focused way, we settle the mind and bring more life energy in the body.
Here’s one for you to try right now that takes about a minute:
1:2 Breath Practice: Inhale to the count of four and exhale twice as long to the count of eight. Set a timer for one minute and try this simple 1:2 breath. When the minute is over, simply sit for a few seconds with your eyes closed and notice how this practice made you feel.
What one thing could you do today to give yourself the medicine of rest?